Season Two: Week 35

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For saying so, there’s gold.

Tuesday / February 19 / 2019
Written by Matt

During check in, one of our members asked whether we wanted to add new people to the ensemble for this 6-week home stretch. As always, this suggestion initiated a discussion. One of our veterans asked why we’d be adding people this late in the game, but a couple of the guys listed all the arguments on the side of adding folks. A few others jumped in, so that one man stopped everyone to get an accounting of the arguments on the other side. There was a short silence afterwards before Frannie suggested that if we wanted to take a few people, we should be clear with them that there are only small parts left and backstage work. “If new people are really serious about doing it, they’ll get it and get something out of it,” said one of the guys, and that was that.

We’ve been wanting to work on the final scene for a while now, but our Regan was missing--off doing something else, wearing one of his several hats! As people discussed what to do, our Lear barrelled forward, not wanting to lose momentum. He asked one of the guys who only has a small part in the scene to read in for Regan. When the man started to protest that he was already a messenger, Lear cut him off to say, “So, is that a yes?” And we were off!

Still, Lear had some trouble getting into the scene. We had worked the first beat a week and a half ago, but the scene’s emotional intensity is challenging, even in those earliest moments. We soldiered on, stopping shortly before the entrance of Edgar.

Mostly, the guys expressed some dismay at how distant they felt from the scene. “It’s like: ‘Love!’ and ‘Hip Hop!’ and ‘Shakespeare!’” said Albany a little cryptically, “I want it to be smooth! Like: BAM!” he stepped snappily at Regan, “BAM!” he stepped intimidatingly at Edmund. “But it didn’t work out that way.” Of everyone, our temporary Regan had the biggest epiphany: asked what was going on with Regan, he mused, “I feel like her self-editing software is failing.”

Frannie, as she had a week and a half ago, offered to step in to help the scene along with director-style blocking. We don’t usually do this, but it can help in terms of efficiency--and also as a way to free up the actors to do their work more deeply. We always ask permission and encourage ensemble members to pipe up if they have questions, suggestions, or better ideas. At this point in the season, we have a pretty good sense of the story we are all trying to tell, and everyone seems to feel very comfortable speaking up to prod, challenge, and suggest. And as squeamish as jumping in to direct makes us, Lear put us at ease: “When you did it last time,” he said, “I think you did it justice.”

So, we reset at the top of the scene and talked it through. Frannie directed Albany, Goneril, and Regan, and Lear asked for my help with some lines that were giving him trouble. “How can we make Albany nastier?” asked Frannie, and worked with our Albany to plant his feet and hold his ground. As we reset, our Edmund reminded Albany to “put some stank on it!”

Well, that seemed to do it! When revealing Goneril’s treachery, Albany heaved her at Edmund, as if to say, “Go on, take her,” but with a desperate sadness underlying the anger. I got chills.

We talked through Edgar’s entrance, too. We meet in the chapel on Tuesdays, so our playing space was a bit foreshortened, but we still tried to rough out the blocking. Actually, the compressed space helped with the main challenge: maintaining enough space between Edgar and Edmund for the tension to build before the fight. Edmund reflected on his emotional state, saying, “I don’t know who he is. I don’t know what he’s here for. My ego is popping!”

We marked the fight--Patrick Hanley, intrepid fight choreographer, sometime facilitator, and frienemy of the program, will be here next week to get the fight set--and Edmund died off to the side of the stage. Unprompted, Goneril rushed in and slid on his knees, exclaiming, “Whyyyyyyyyyyyyy?!” It was hilarious, but the laughter stopped the rehearsal dead, so we had to make him do it again (“But… these are my good pants!” he protested). His energy was amazing!

Our Albany was struggling a bit to focus his anger at Goneril on his powerful line: “Shut your mouth, dame, or with this paper shall I stop it!” It is such a forceful, direct line, and it needs the right delivery to land its full weight. Frannie helped him find the right vulgar energy, and Albany took the note and ran with it! As Goneril kneeled behind Edmund’s body, Albany stepped over Edmund with one foot, squatted down to meet Goneril’s eyes, and delivered his line with chilling venom.

We had to stop for a moment to fix the gesture--not only is it a little bit dangerous to stomp next to someone’s face onstage, but the move also put Albany in an awkward position from the audience’s point of view--but Albany kept the same ruthless energy in his line, and he couldn’t resist adding a little wink to the end of his next line. “Read thine own evil,” he spat. “Yeeyuh!”

Then, since this scene does not let up, Edgar went in to make amends with his brother. Our Edgar started with some edge in his voice, directing the words about their father’s demise as a cutting final curse. His delivery was effective… but totally contrary to the text, and many of the words seemed not to fit as he used them to attack Edmund.

When we went back to recap that beat, Frannie talked to Edgar about using the words in the text to find Edgar’s emotional state, and one of the veterans wondered aloud whether we shouldn’t move the whole action of the scene upstage a bit, reminding us that some audience members in our Othello performance had trouble connecting with moments that occurred too far downstage.

In the final moments before we broke for the day, our Edmund noted, after we shifted him slightly, that the place he dies is also the place he stopped to assert his authority over Lear and Cordelia when they entered at the top of the scene. During the final run, Edgar lost the edge in his voice, and connected with Edmund, grabbing his arm. Hearing of their father’s fate, Edmund’s chest heaved with sobs. It was a great base for working through the rest of the scene on Friday!

Friday / February 22 / 2019
Written by Coffey

Today we built a scene while destroying a set.

But first things first.

Check-in was all about the future. Frannie reminded the group that we all need to start thinking about what we’ll be doing next season, the men discussed plans for finishing the gorgeous backdrop for the show, and Frannie shared that she’s acquired tops hats and flight goggles, contributing to the show’s steampunk theme. One man shared a poetic reflection on some of Ralph Waldo Emerson’s work which he commingled with his excitement about our show: “We’re really doing this...trust is what I’m looking for.” As check-in wrapped up we received the news that one of our ensemble will be heading home soon. That was met with a moment of quiet smiles and nods (and laughter, as this man tends to be a class clown, even when saying goodbye). This group is grounded in the idea that our ensemble members will move forward to do incredible things, but theatre creates such strong, tight-knit groups that goodbyes are bittersweet.

I started rehearsal by leading the men in a vocal warmup. In this warmup, called “Oz”, the actor goes through the different vocal resonators in the body by embodying the Cowardly Lion (deep chest voice), the Wizard (chest voice), the Wicked Witch of the West (nasal resonators), and Dorothy (head voice). I was worried that the men might not take to this warmup, as it requires a lot of silliness. The guys, however, dove right in, bellowing “I AM OZ, THE GREAT AND POWERFUL,” and even screeching “Surrender, Dorothy!” while riding imaginary brooms. Silliness accomplished and voices warmed, we turned our focus to King Lear’s harrowing finale.

Occasionally in Shakespeare’s tragedies, the scenes in which everything is falling apart for the characters are the scenes which require the most structure and careful blocking. We definitely felt this today while working on Act V, scene 3. Lear and Cordelia are imprisoned, Edgar and Edmund confront each other and come to blows, and Regan and Goneril’s deeds finally catch up to them, all in a matter of fifteen minutes. Choreographing chaos began with just that—chaos. Five deaths in one long sequence is a lot, so we kept it simple and started with Edmund. After receiving a fatal wound from his brother Edgar (in disguise), he falls to the ground and confronts the havoc he has wrought. After getting Edmund to fall a little further upstage so we could hear and see him, we were treated to a glimpse of how well-developed his character has become. As Edgar revealed his true identity to his dying brother, Edmund threw his head back and gave a breathless, bitter laugh. Our Edmund was aware of the almost too-poetic justice being enacted and, true to form, laughed in its face. It was a dark moment but an impactful one to watch.

The next challenge in this chaotic finale was getting “dead bodies” on and off stage. While dragging Regan and Goneril in on large canvas sheets seemed like our best option, several set pieces still stood in the way of actors moving on and off stage with bodies in tow. After some ideas were thrown around, Frannie’s face lit up. She ran onto the stage and kicked the set pieces out of the way, knocking them out of place. It seemed to click with everyone - everything is falling out of place. Lear’s world is disintegrating—why not show that in a literal sense by letting the scenery fall apart along with the scene?

The last section of the sequence, Lear’s devastating entrance with Cordelia, is a huge moment, and it was clear that the actors were feeling a little intimidated about handling the scene’s weight. Emotional weight, yes, but also the weight of the actors themselves. Our Lear and Cordelia had a hard time figuring out how to bear Cordelia onto the stage, to the point that the scene almost started several times, but was stopped by those two busting into nervous laughter, shaking their heads, and heading right back off stage. After a few of these false starts, Frannie offered the option of Lear carrying Cordelia in on his back, which both got Cordelia onstage somewhat smoothly and opened Lear up to the audience. It was still awkward, though, and they ended up settling on Lear’s dragging Cordelia in, his arms under hers, after having kicked another part of the set to the side.

The entrance did start to get smooth enough for the men to continue the scene. Lear entered with the dead Cordelia, practically shaking the gym with his cries of grief. As Lear knelt down by his daughter’s body, he appeared to create a natural center to the scene as the other actors slowly but seamlessly gathered and knelt around the grieving father. The bewilderment at the scene’s end was palpable. After it ended, Lear reflected on his performance, admitting that there was “too much thinking”, but shared a beautiful take on the scene, rooted in the battle flag image he discovered during the Chekhov exercises we’ve done in the past: “[My battle flag] is just one little scrap, with one bright little spot. And that’s Cordelia.”

We closed our rehearsal, satisfied with the headway we made on this difficult scene and excited to see what more it has in store for us.